Issaquah school board leaves boundary decisions with superintendent

March 26, 2013

By Lillian O'Rorke

Three months after Kevin Ham was told a boundary change would send his children to a new school next year, he went in front of the Issaquah School Board and asked them to change the way such decisions are made.

According to district policy, it is up to the superintendent to make boundary adjustments. In the case of small adjustments, the district does not open the process to public input.

After hearing Ham’s request, the board discussed the matter at its March 13 meeting and ultimately decided to leave the policy as is.

Ham’s concerns began at a community meeting Nov. 20, where Superintendent Steve Rasmussen explained that in order to alleviate overcrowding at Grand Ridge Elementary School, about 175 of its students would be shifted to Clark Elementary School next fall. Additionally, all kindergartners will go to Challenger or Endeavour elementary schools.

“It is not acceptable that within such a short time frame so many families will be forced to change schools,” Ham said during public comment at the Feb. 13 school board meeting. “We understand that the superintendent can determine boundary changes without input from the school board and the general public, if the boundary change only affects one to two schools. We ask the school board to revise this policy because these decisions both deserve, and benefit, input from the community.”

Ham, who said he was speaking on behalf of several Issaquah Highlands families, suggested the new policy include the school board giving ample notice to the community, holding at least one public meeting where people could give their input to be considered in the decision and that the final approval of any boundary changes be made by the school board.

The board picked the issue up again at its March 13 meeting. During the discussion, board member Suzanne Weaver said she understood that the request was coming from people who felt like they didn’t have a say in any part of the decision.

“When the public feels like they don’t have input, they go to the board because the board is where you give public input,” she said. “So, really all we need to say is that, we need to have assurances from the administration that they are listening to the public when they do boundary changes. And, I believe they are.”

The other board members agreed that boundary changes are complex and best left to the administration.

“I see the frustration of the Grand Ridge community … but it really is about growth and deciding what is best for kids,” board member Marnie Maraldo said. “We’ve had a system in place for a very long time, and I don’t see the need to pull that into the board. I actually think it would be detrimental to the process.”

Ron Thiele, who will step in as Issaquah’s superintendent July 1, later explained in a phone interview that boundary decisions are not made arbitrarily. Important factors, he said, include the transportation department, feeder patterns for middle and high schools, and calculating the projected number of elementary school-aged children in each neighborhood.

“I understand that people get frustrated when boundaries have to change, but it really is a function of management and you want to do it well,” Thiele said. “It is going to be inevitable given the changing nature of demographics. I could never say to you, ‘These are the boundaries for the next decade.’”

Small adjustments — like when a subdivision builds a few houses over a current boundary line — are often made, he said, to keep neighborhoods intact. The administration will typically get the public involved through a committee process, Thiele said, only when several thousand students stand to be effected by a change.

“In this particular case, we didn’t do a large committee process,” Thiele said about Grand Ridge. “It was a much smaller scope, and you didn’t have a lot of options either.”

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